I finally watched it. I had been waiting to watch Waiting for Superman.
Waiting for what? Not sure. I knew it would “angry up my blood” (the words of my partner as he hit play last night). Waiting until I had adequately prepared myself? Waiting until I could try to watch it with an open mind? Waiting until I had a pen and pad of paper nearby so that I could write down every false statement made about teachers, teachers’ unions, and the role of context in schooling? This is the problem with research that has anything to do with popular media — your brain never shuts off.
What sticks in my memory from watching the film last night, though, aren’t the baldfaced lies about teachers and their work (though there were many), the misinterpretations of the charter system and its false promises (though these were countable), or the uncritical comments about what counts as “achievement” for students or “success” for teachers (though these were rampant). What sticks out in my memory? I watched the movie with my partner-in-crime, my husband of five years. He was able on more than one occasion to point out how the producers made correlational claims sound causal, how the film would argue something about the role of teachers without taking into account context and resources, and how the documentarist often contradicted himself. Without knowing who all of the featured “reformers” were (I knew all of the ones he interviewed by name prior to watching), without being part of the educational system (aside from knowing me), and without having children, he was able to poke holes in the film’s argument about public education in our nation from start to finish.
This gives me hope. Hope that perhaps others, others who are also not educators but are smart people capable of looking at many sides of an issue, haven’t watched this film and immediately blamed “bad teachers” for our nation’s “educational issues” (which I happen to believe are more than a little overinflated by propagandistic media like this). That perhaps not everyone believes that high test scores equal intelligence, that teaching kids how to memorize facts via cute little rhymes doesn’t actually help them become better thinkers, or that teachers care about their students and need support from the administration in order to be the best professionals they can be.
What did I like about the film? Very little. It wasn’t worth the wait. But there was one message (not the primary one, mind you) that I did appreciate — kids want to learn. I’ve been chanting this from the rooftops since I started teaching. It gets easy sometimes — I know I was guilty of this more than once — to blame the kids for not studying, to blame parents for not encouraging studying, to blame everyone but ourselves as teachers for students’ disengagement. While I hate the media chant that “bad teachers” are to blame for “bad results” because the “results” are poor measures to begin with, I do believe that teachers and administrators should be introspective about their role in making learning worth it for our students. One thing I learned during my few years of teaching was that students do want to learn. They crave knowledge about the world, how it works, and how and where they fit within it. They crave challenge. On those occasions when teaching gets tough because kids are disengaged, disinterested, or disempowered to learn, it’s time for teachers and administrators to look to the curriculum and look to the systems in their own schools to find ways to make learning matter for their students. This message did not ring loud and clear through the film, but it was there as an undercurrent, which I appreciated.
Done waiting to watch Waiting for Superman. Now I’m just waiting for the day our media decides to cut the crisis rhetoric.